In today’s post 9/11 America, much attention is being given to Islam and Muslims. More often than not, coverage of Islam and Muslims is limited to the sensational and the extreme. Moreover, commentators on cable and radio stations often approach the subject with an emotional bias rather than a comprehensive objective analysis. This, coupled with the limited accessibility of outspoken moderate Muslims, leaves the average American gravely misinformed about Islam and Muslims.
But that is slowly changing. American Muslims are beginning to reach out – now more than ever. Muslim Activists are beginning to realize that the onus is on them to build bridges with their neighbors and fellow citizens if they are ever to erase misconceptions about themselves and their faith.
One good example of this is the “Building Bridges to Islam” lecture series hosted by two leading American public service organizations: CAIR-Chicago and Edlerhostel. CAIR-Chicago is a local chapter of the Council on American-Muslim Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. Elderhostel is the nation’s first and the world’s largest educational and travel organization for older adults. Elderhostel advertises the program and signs up interested members from all over the Chicago area, while CAIR-Chicago administers the program which it hosts at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northbrook, a model Mosque known for its solid commitment to interfaith activities.
“Our goal is to demystify Islam and Muslims and to show the true face of things as they stand,” Yaser Tabbara, Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago said. “Misunderstanding originates when a lack of communication is prevalent; this effort is truly about building bridges for a better America.”
The all-day program which debuted last Wednesday, January 26th, is to be held every Wednesday in February.
Following overwhelmingly positive feedback on the first week, plans are already being made to add 4 more weeks to accommodate an influx of people to the waiting list. Each week’s program hosts 75-80 people, for an estimated total of 600 people (8 total Wednesdays). Each day the program is held, guests are treated to two interactive lectures on Islam and Muslims, a Q&A town hall session, a tour of the mosque, prayer service, and a Middle-Eastern full course dinner. The program is designed to be informative, meaningful, and relevant to an American audience while added focus is given to audience participation in order to ensure full customization of the program in addressing their concerns.
“This is a wonderful experience for everyone involved; the feedback we’re getting from the audience is heartwarming,” Ahmed Rehab, Communications Director of CAIR-Chicago and the program’s administrator said. “They come to us with a burning curiosity and a a sincere desire to understand; in turn, we try to candidly address all their questions, and to leave no controversial topic untouched. This is the sort of community-driven initiative that America needs more of at this juncture in our history.”
For more information on “Building Bridges to Islam” lecture series hosted by CAIR-Chicago in conjunction with Elderhostel, please visit: http://www.cairchicago.org/events.php?file=ev_lectures12282004
There are an estimated seven million Muslims in America today and nearly 2,500 mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic centers across the country. There is an estimated 1.25 billion Muslims worldwide.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 30 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR-Chicago’s Director of Communications, Ahmed Rehab, 847-971-3963, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Executive Director, Yaser Tabbara, 312-718-3725, 312-212-1520, email@example.com